Test may detect cancer without op

A new imaging technique could make it possible to diagnose breast cancer without the need for surgery.

The system combines detection of breast lumps with a search for molecules that accumulate in cancer cells.

Normally, the presence of a breast tumour is confirmed by taking a sample of tissue and analysing it in a laboratory.

The new magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) method may make biopsies unnecessary. It combines high-level magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) with a spectroscopic measurement of choline compound levels.

A study found that choline levels were raised in malignant tissues.

Chief investigator Professor Michael Garwood, from the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, USA, said: "We found tCho (tissue choline) concentrations to be significantly higher in malignancies than in benign lumps and normal breast tissues using this quantitative method.

"Using high magnetic fields and this spectroscopic technique may produce a powerful way to diagnose breast cancer and to monitor its response to treatment. We hope this technique will eventually be used to avoid unnecessary biopsy."

The scientists faced a technical challenge because of the way the breast is made. Its irregular distribution of fatty and glandular tissue made establishing choline level reference points difficult.

The system makes use of a mathematical approach to accommodate the variations. It also employs an extra-sensitive magnetic resonance scanner with a powerful magnetic field.

So far the study has enrolled 105 subjects and compared choline levels in normal tissue, benign lesions, and malignant tumours, the scientists reported in the journal Magnetic Resonance in Medicine.

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